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Parmigiano reggiano is a grana, a hard, granular cheese, cooked but not pressed, named after the producing areas of Parma and Reggio Emilia, in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. It is widely described by connoisseurs as the king of cheeses.

Parmigiano is simply the Italian adjective for Parma; the French version, parmesan, is used in English. The term 'parmesan' is also loosely used as a common term for cheeses imitating true Parmesan cheese, especially outside Europe; it is a protected name in Europe. More precisely, such cheeses are known as grana.


Parmigiano reggiano is made from raw cow's milk. 365 days a year, the whole milk of the morning milking is mixed with the naturally skimmed milk of the previous evening's milking resulting in a part skim mixture. The milk is pumped into copper lined vats (copper heats quickly and cools quickly). There are 1,100 liters of milk per vat, producing two cheeses each. The curd making up each wheel at this point weighs around 45 kg (100 lb). The remaining whey in the vat was traditionally used to feed the pigs from which Parma Hams (Prosciutto) are produced. The barns for these animals were usually just a few yards away from the cheese production rooms.

The cheese is put into a stainless steel round form that is pulled tight with a spring powered buckle so the cheese retains it wheel shape. After a day or two, the buckle is released and a plastic belt imprinted numerous times with the Parmigiano reggiano name, the plant's number, and month and year of production is put around the cheese and the metal form is buckled tight again. The imprints take hold on the rind of the cheese in about a day and the wheel is then put into a brine bath to absorb salt for 20 days. After brining, the wheels are then transferred to the aging rooms in the plant for 12 months. Each cheese is placed on wooden shelves that can be 24 cheeses high by 90 cheeses long or about 4,000 total wheels per aisle. Each cheese and the shelf underneath it is then cleaned robotically every 7 days. The cheese is also turned at this time.

At 12 months the Consorzio Parmigiano reggiano inspects each and every cheese. The cheese is tested by a Master grader whose only instruments are a hammer and sound. By tapping the wheel at various points, he can identify undesirable cracks and voids within the wheel. Those cheeses that pass the test are then heat branded on the rind with the Consorzio's logo. Cheeses that are not so selected used to have their rinds remarked with lines or the letter x all the way around so consumers know they are not getting top quality Parmigiano reggiano, but are now simply stripped of all markings.

Traditionally, cows have to be fed only on grass or hay, producing grass fed milk. Only natural whey culture is allowed as a starter, together with calf rennet.[1]

The only additive allowed is salt which the cheese absorbs while being submerged for 20 days in brine tanks saturated to near total salinity with Mediterranean sea salt. The product is aged an average of two years. The cheese is produced daily, and it can show a natural variability. True Parmigiano-reggiano cheese has a complex fruity/nutty taste with a slightly gritty texture.

The average Parmigiano reggiano wheel is about 18—24 cm (7—9 in) high, 40—45 cm (16—18 in) in diameter, and weighs an average of 38 kg (84 lb).

Uses of the cheese include being grated over pasta, stirred into soup and risotto, and eaten in chunks with balsamic vinegar. It is also a key ingredient in alfredo sauce and pesto.


According to the legend, the Parmigiano was created in the course of the Middle Ages in Bibbiano, in the province of Reggio Emilia. Its production soon spread to the Parma and Modena areas. Historical documents show that in the 13th-14th century Parmigiano was already very similar to that produced today: this suggest that its origins can be traced far before.

It was praised as early as 1348 in the writings of Boccaccio, in the Decameron, he speaks of a mountain made completely of parmesan to accompany macaroni and ravioli.

Samuel Pepys is reputed to have buried his Parmigiano during the Great Fire of London of 1666 to preserve it.

Use of the name Parmigiano reggiano[]

In the European Union the word parmesan is a food label protected by the law that can be legally used to refer exclusively to the Parmigiano Reggiano DOP cheese manufactured in a limited area in Northern Italy. (See Protected designation of origin.) Outside Europe, local cheeses are manufactured and sold under the generic name parmesan in many countries, most notably in the United States.

The name is trademarked, and in Italy there is a legal exclusive control exercised over its production and sales by the Parmigiano reggiano cheese Consorzio (created by a governmental decree). There are strict criteria each wheel must meet early in the aging process, when the cheese is still soft and creamy, to merit the official seal and be placed in storage for aging.

Parmigiano reggiano has become an increasingly regulated product; in 1955 it became what is known as a certified name (not a brand name). The name "parmesan" (in its extra-European sense) however, has no such regulations. The European Union campaigns against the use of protected European food labels by producers outside the designated region of origin, which might eventually lead to dropping the word "parmesan" from cheese products originating outside the designated production region of Parmigiano reggiano.

Other cheeses named parmesan[]

The Grana Padano is an Italian cheese very similar to the Parmigiano reggiano. Differences are:

  • It is produced mainly in Lombardy - the name Padano derives from the River Po
  • Cows can also be fed silage, not grass and hay only
  • The milk contains slightly less fat
  • Milk of several days can be used
  • It is aged for 15 months only

American parmesan differs from Parmigiano reggiano in several ways:

  • The cheese is aged for 10 months only
  • The curds for Parmigiano reggiano are cut into fragments the size of wheat grains, which is much finer than the fragments created in the manufacture of the American version of parmesan. The smaller curds drain more effectively;
  • American parmesan is mechanically pressed in order to expel excess moisture.
  • parmesan wheels in the United States average 11 kg (24 pounds). The size difference can affect their salt saturation during the brining process; Parmigiano reggiano on average contains two-thirds less sodium chloride than the average parmesan.

Gourmands tend to view Grana Padano and American parmesan as inferior in quality to Parmigiano reggiano, due to its difference in flavor and texture.

In Popular Culture[]

  • In the Loud House episode “Appitite for Destruction”, The Loud Family we’re at an Italian Restaurant, when Lily mysteriously went into the Parmesan room from different sizes. Which becomes Crankier than ever. Lynn sr and Rita think Lily wants a new friends. But they learned that too much cheese can make you cranky

See also[]


  1. See Disciplinare di produzione, the section headed “STANDARD DI PRODUZIONE”, fourth paragraph.


External links[]